It’s Banned Books Week, and while it’s sad that we need a Banned Books Week, I’m so glad we have it.
In case you’re new to Banned Books Week, it started in 1982 after the number of books being challenged in schools, bookstores and libraries swelled. Challenged books are ones that have received requests for removal from, for example, a school, library or bookstore. With the number of challenged books getting larger, the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom created a database in 1990 on information about books that have been challenged. The database is sourced from media reports as well as the Office’s own challenged books report form. They have an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books from that year, and the current list of 10 books were culled from 323 challenges recorded by the OIF in 2016. In previous years, the challenges have totaled more than 500.
You might think, “Hey, with that many challenges, maybe there’s something in this whole banning books thing…” So, here’s my own top 10 list, with reasons why we SHOULD read banned books (or not try to ban them in the first place).
10. Banned books have amazing stories.
The HARRY POTTER books were on the top ten lists for many years, and I LOVE those stories. They have heart, action, imagination, fun, amazingly delicious-sounding food and characters’ with courage. Also good beats evil, so what’s not to love there?
9. Banned books are well written.
Books by such acclaimed and award-winning authors as John Green, Toni Morrison and Sherman Alexie are on the top ten lists of challenged books. The beauty of their words should be enjoyed by everyone. (I will add that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was challenged for being “poorly written” in 2015, among other things, but I haven’t read the book so can’t comment there…)
8. Banned books help us understand other cultures.
I didn’t grow up in Iran in the Islamic Revolution, but Marjane Satrapi did, and through her wonderful graphic novel memoir PERSEPOLIS, I can see a glimpse of what it was like. The book was in the top ten list of challenged books in 2014 for “gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint … politically, racially, and socially offensive … graphic depictions.” It’s also about Marjane Satrapi’s real life during the time and culture, and while it might be difficult to read, it can help us understand.
7. Banned books inspire us with true stories.
Anyone who saw the news between 1991 and 2009 would’ve heard about Jaycee Dugard, the 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped when she was walking home from school and kept hidden behind the house of sexual offenders for years until she was finally–and thankfully–rescued. The story was big news, with details in magazines, newspapers, TV, etc. In 2011, Jaycee Dugard’s memoir A STOLEN LIFE was published, and while people who followed the story already knew most of what was in it, reading the words from her is more heart-breaking and inspiring than any TV interview. A STOLEN LIFE was on the top ten most challenged books list in 2014. The reasons for the challenge were that the book included “drugs/alcohol/smoking” and “offensive language”, and was “sexually explicit” and “unsuited for the age group”. But the truth is that, as much as people want to wish that things like this don’t happen in this world, this is a TRUE story that happened to an 11-YEAR-OLD GIRL, and Jaycee Dugard isn’t the only victim of acts like these. The strength in her words can inspire and help others, as well as build empathy and hopefully change in our whole society.
6. Banned books help us learn about people who are different from us.
I’m not transgender, but through Alex Gino‘s GEORGE, I can get to know their challenges, wants, needs, etc. GEORGE was in the top ten list for 2016 and was challenged “because it includes a transgender child.” But that’s the point of the book. Sure, not every kid in the world is transgender, but some are. They should be able to read stories about children like themselves, and those of who aren’t, should reading their stories too so we can break down any walls that divide us. (Spoiler alert: we’re not really that different afterall.)
5. Banned books reflect humanity.
Rainbow Rowell‘s brilliant ELEANOR & PARK was challenged in 2016 for “offensive language”, but the characters within it and the situations they have to deal with–as despairing as they are–are true to our world. After reading the book, a close friend of mine even said his childhood could’ve been a model for Eleanor’s life.
4. Banned books teach us about moments in history.
One of the most celebrated books in American history, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, was challenged for “offensive language” and “racism”, but it also depicts life in Alabama around 1936 as well as represents a bigger mindset that has plagued humanity, that people who are different are less. Unfortunately, that mindset is still being taught to kids toeday, and they need books like this to see that it’s wrong.
3. Banned books bring light to the marginalized.
The majority of challenges involve situations with marginalized characters, especially “LGBT characters”. In 2016, the top 5 most challenged books had this complaint: the Caldecott and Printz Honor book THIS ONE SUMMER by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier, GEORGE by Alex Gino, I AM JAZZ by Jessica Herthal and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, and TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan. The people who challenged these books might not be LGBT, but they’re not the only one who read. I have lots of LGBT friends who love books, and if non-LGBT people have books that reflect their lives, why shouldn’t LGBT people too? Not to mention the fact that reading these books about marginalized people also fall into my Nos. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4, so…
2. No one other than me should decide what I can or can’t read.
The wonderful thing about a democratic society is I get to vote for whomever I want, eat at whichever restaurant I want, watch whatever movie I want, buy whichever type of cookies I want… Imagine if you went into your local grocery store and someone had removed all the chocolate, or said you could only eat broccoli from now on? Big collections at libraries and bookstores are like democracy at its best, and who doesn’t want democracy?
1. Banned books should never have been censored in the first place.
Yes, that’s right. Banning books is censorship, and censorship is against the First Amendment. Freedom of Speech isn’t about protecting one type of opinion; it’s about protecting EVERYONE’S right to speak up. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t agree with the content in many, many books (that’s a whole other blog post), but just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t read it. You know what was the No. 6 most challenged book in 2015? THE HOLY BIBLE. Yep, people objected to its “religious viewpoint.” But just because those people don’t like what the BIBLE says, does that mean it should be banned for everyone else?
So, for these reasons, I read banned books. Because if we don’t tell librarians, bookstore managers and schools that OUR opinions matter as much as those who don’t like certain books, we could lose our voices all together.
What are you favorite banned books?